Van Cliburn, American classical pianist, dies
In this photo provided by the Van Cliburn Foundation, Texas pianist Van Cliburn performs to a packed audience in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in Moscow, Russia, in April 1958 during the first International Tchaikovsky Competition, which he won. Van Cliburn has been diagnosed with advanced bone cancer and is resting comfortably at his Texas home, his publicist said Monday Aug. 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Van Cliburn Foundation, file)
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Van Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock-star status, died Wednesday after a fight with bone cancer. He was 78.
Cliburn died at his home in Fort Worth surrounded by loved ones, said his publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone.
The Grammy winner had made his last public appearance in September at the 50th anniversary of the prestigious piano competition in Fort Worth named in his honor. To a roaring standing ovation, he saluted many past contestants, the orchestra and the city, saying: "Never forget: I love you all from the bottom of my heart, forever."
"His legacy is one of being a great humanitarian, a great musician, a great colleague, and a great friend to all who knew and loved him. Van is iconic," said Carla Kemp Thompson, chairwoman of the Van Cliburn Foundation, which hosts the competition. "(We) join the international community in mourning the loss of a true giant."
FILE - This Sept. 18, 2008 file photo shows pianist Van Cliburn at the presentation ceremony of the Liberty Medal that was presented to former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in Philadelphia. Cliburn, the internationally celebrated pianist whose triumph at a 1958 Moscow competition helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular career that made him the rare classical musician to enjoy rock star status died early Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at his Fort Worth home following a battle with bone cancer. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek, file)
Cliburn skyrocketed to fame when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23 in 1958, six months after the Soviets' launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and propelled the world into the space age. He triumphantly returned to a New York City ticker tape parade — the first ever for a classical musician — and a Time magazine cover proclaimed him "The Texan Who Conquered Russia."
But the win also proved the power of the arts, bringing unity in the midst of strong rivalry. Despite the tension between the nations, Cliburn became a hero to music-loving Soviets who clamored to see him perform and Premier Nikita Khrushchev reportedly gave the go-ahead for the judges to honor a foreigner: "Is Cliburn the best? Then give him first prize."
In the years that followed, Cliburn's popularity soared, and the young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore sold out concerts, caused riots when spotted in public and even prompted an Elvis Presley fan club to change its name to his. His recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin became the first classical album to reach platinum status.